To write or not to write, that is the question. But I am writing out of a sense that this needs to be shared. It really does. My son agrees with me and gave me his consent.
There are so many parents in a similar position and many many more kids who find themselves in this place, similar to my son’s.
He is almost 15 years old. He was diagnosed as a gifted child a little more than 7 years ago, when he was going from 1st grade to 2nd grade. At the same time he was diagnosed as ADD, and last year it was changed to ADHD.
So we already know he is a smart kid. Over the past 3 years he’s been using Ritalin on and off, mainly for exams and was doing more than OK in school, at the special class for the gifted. But Ritalin made him feel sick most of the time and we decided it’s time to question the treatment and took him off it several months ago.
Let me tell you that he is a happy kid, he loves to laugh and to make other people laugh. He is very sociable, always has some good friends around. He likes sports, especially soccer and used to do Capoeira too. He likes to travel and loves to eat and cook (when I let him). He is a very creative artist. Been drawing and photographing since a very young age and he is also very musical. He is now in his 5th year playing the trumpet.
Which brings me to the recent story. 3 months ago he started 9th grade in this very lucrative high school – The National High School for the Arts “Thelma Yellin”, as a trumpet player in the Jazz department. The school year started just wonderful. Everything excited him – from the new students he befriended, to the teachers who seem kind and caring, to the whole “Fame” like atmosphere the school offers.
But while this school offers a lot it demands no less. The current class system comprises of 8 core topics (like math, English, history, chemistry etc.) and 5 Jazz topics, from The History of Jazz to Improvisation. That’s 12 different topics to master. That’s a lot. And it’s especially a lot for an ADHD student.
While ADHD people have more receptors open and apparently can grasp more than the average person, a lot of what their mind grasps is irrelevant information, or “noise”. The noisier their environment the more noise – exponentially they are grasping, and the less relevant information stays in.
That is, of course, where Sir Ken Robinson’s words echo in my brain. Are we having a global ADHD epidemic??
Epidemic or no epidemic we are sitting with our son at the teacher-parents conference. The teacher nods her head and points to the low grades our son has achieved this semester. It’s very strange, given his IQ, she says, not in these words exactly. And then the motivational talk is directed at my son. She’s really nice, and I am sure he is not the first ADHD student to have passed under her wings. Still the words come out: “You must try harder” – and I see how his eyes are getting narrower. “You must concentrate”, his shoulders sink. “You need to think what can improve your performance in the classroom”, or something similar and I feel the lump in my throat and the humidity in my eyes.
“He can’t”, I say. “It’s not a decision he can make. It’s not an action to perform.” And I am thinking about this epidemic. “It’s like an illness or a handicap.” (Would you ask a kid to be taller so he can score better in Basketball?)
The teacher looks at me. She seems surprised. More at herself than at me, or perhaps I am imagining it. “Yes, I know”, she smiles an understanding smile: Illnesses are treated with medicines.
And so once again I find myself at this crossroad, where in order to allow my son to grow and develop and learn in the school he desires and deserves – I must sedate him. Is he going to need Ritalin to thrive in the real world? For higher education? Would he need Ritalin to work with his fellow band players? At which point does the ADHD ceases to be an epidemic and continues to be an evolution? And how much of this epidemic is caused by outdated education systems?